CRESTLINE — Tyler Sanders may not be steeped in Crestline basketball lore, but the first-year coach fully understood the significance of Tuesday’s 65-42 win over Monroeville in the opening round of the Division IV sectional tournament.
The victory was the first in the postseason for the Bulldogs since 2012 and it came during a tumultuous time for the program.
A Mansfield Christian graduate, Sanders took over at Crestline in June after former coach Rob Lisle’s contract was not renewed after last season. The surprise move — Crestline won 11 games last year, the most since 2006-07 — outraged several players. Some decided not to play this season. Others transferred.
The Bulldogs opened the season with three straight losses and were 1-7 when the calendar flipped to 2019.
“It has been a season of craziness and it was an off-season of craziness,” Sanders said Tuesday evening. “It has been challenging but these kids deserve nothing less than what they got tonight.”
Seniors Ty Clear and Max Anatra were both instrumental in Crestline’s tournament opener. Clark, the program’s career rebounding leader, scored 14 points in the win while Anatra added a team-high 15.
“We’ve worked so hard to get here. We’ve been through so many struggles recently with coaching issues,” Anatra said. “We’ve had like eight guys quit this year. The guys who have stuck with us and are here now played their hearts out.
“It means a lot to me because that is the first time Crestline has won a tournament game in awhile," Anatra said.
Ninth-seeded Crestline’s reward for Tuesday’s win is a date with No. 1 Colonel Crawford at 6:15 p.m. Friday at Galion in the sectional championship game. The Eagles are 18-4 and have won 16 of their last 17 games (the one loss came against Division II heavyweight Lexington).
“Colonel Crawford is one of the best teams in the area. It’s exciting to get a chance to play a team like that,” Anatra said. “We had to get through Monroeville first, but we’ve been putting together a game plan for Crawford. We think we’ve got a good one, so we’ll see what happens.”
If the Bulldogs (9-14) can spread the wealth like they did against Monroeville, Colonel Crawford could have its hands full. In addition to Clark and Anatra, junior guards Trevor Phillips (14) and Kaden Ronk (12) also scored in double figures.
“If we have four guys scoring in double figures, we are extremely difficult to guard,” Anatra said. “We have some shooters and if they are being face-guarded, that opens up lanes to drive.”
Regardless of what happens Friday, Sanders couldn’t be any happier for his seniors.
“The reason I really wanted this job is the seniors. There’s something about them and their dedication to turn things around,” Sanders said. “We know we’re going to play the best team in the area in Division IV and maybe Division III, but we want these kids to go play their hearts out. That is what these seniors deserve.
“I’m just really proud of them and what they have accomplished for the school and the program.”